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Turkey is fuming that a German comedian said its President has sex with goats and sheep

The row has ignited a debate about free speech.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Image: AP/Press Association Images

GERMAN AUTHORITIES ARE reviewing a request by Turkey to prosecute a TV satirist who crudely insulted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on air, amid a bitter row over free speech.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters that Berlin had received a “note verbale”, a formal diplomatic protest, from Ankara asking for “criminal proceedings” against celebrity comedian Jan Boehmermann.

Seibert said officials at the chancellery, foreign ministry and justice ministry would decide after “careful review” in the coming days whether a probe under the rarely enforced section 103 of the criminal code – insulting organs or representatives of foreign states – could go forward.

If prosecutors decide to bring charges, they could carry a sentence of up to three years in prison.

German prosecutors last week opened a preliminary probe against Boehmermann, 35, over his so-called “Defamatory Poem”, recited with a broad grin on public television, which accused Erdogan of having sex with goats and sheep.

That investigation was based on complaints from several German viewers. However the Turkish government’s request gives the affair a far broader diplomatic dimension and puts Merkel in the line of fire.

Seibert stressed Berlin’s constitutional commitment to freedom of expression, calling it “non-negotiable”.

“This applies, and this is very important to me, regardless of whether the chancellor personally finds something artistically successful or repellent, tasteful or tasteless,” he said.

Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin confirmed the complaint to reporters in Ankara.

“This type of insult against a president, against an entire people, has nothing to do with freedom of expression and the press, it is a criminal offence,” he said.

During the broadcast on 31 March, Boehmermann gleefully admitted the piece flouted Germany’s legal limits on free speech and was intended as a provocation.

In the German-language rhyme, Boehmermann, seated before the Turkish flag and a portrait of Erdogan, also charges that the Turkish leader loves to “repress minorities, kick Kurds and beat Christians while watching child porn”.

© AFP, 2016

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